“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” is a phrase the AFL doesn’t seem to be familiar with. This week, dividing the football oval into zones as a way to combat increased congestion was the latest hair-brained scheme to be floated, and by a member of the AFL’s Laws of the Game Committee no less in former West Coast Eagles captain and coach John Worsfold. Coaches, players and commentators alike immediately shot down the idea, but the damage had already been done.
The AFL continues to spread the perception that it can’t help but continuously and unnecessarily tinker with a game that has survived in a similar format since its rules were drawn up in 1859.
To be fair to Worsfold, he called the suggestion “far-fetched”, that its implementation would be “problematic”, and that the likely scenario was the game would “evolve itself”. But the fact that he was able to talk in detail about the proposed changes is evidence that the idea has been given some serious thought around the Laws of the Game Committee boardroom table.
This raises a number of questions. Why is the Laws of the Game Committee even talking about such a radical change to the rules of football? What exactly is the scope of the Committee? And is there even a need for the Committee?
The AFL has been one of the keenest administrations in world sport when it comes to amending the rules of its code. And by keen, I mean it has paranoid tendencies that cause it to jump at shadows.
For the average punter to imagine a game with zones, where players are limited in where they can and can’t move to, is completely undesirable and virtually impossible. Think of Dustin Fletcher’s goal in the first minute of the Essendon v Richmond game on the weekend. What if he was one of the designated ‘Goal Keeper’ backs (unfortunately, a netball term is apt in these circumstances), not allowed to move outside his defensive half? That goal would never have happened.
If it’s hard for the average person to comprehend such a radical change to the essence of the game, what’s even harder to comprehend is why Worsfold and co have it on their radar.
There is no argument that congestion around the ball is not the most attractive look for a sport which prides itself on its free-flowing nature. Make no mistake; I’m all for a free-flowing game. I’m certainly a free-flowing type of guy. I don’t like Rugby League because it’s so repetitive: run, charge, tackle, repeat. I don’t like gridiron because it’s stop-start. And don’t get me started on the finicky “can’t go there, can’t go near” rules of netball.
But this is the wrong way to go about fixing the problem (if there is one), and to some extent, the AFL has itself to blame for the situation it currently finds itself in with congestion. Firstly, umpires are now more lenient to players who are tackled and don’t dispose of the ball correctly. And secondly, there has been a noticeable increase in the time it takes for an umpire to call for a ball up. Both of these factors provide the opportunity for more players to arrive at a contest and add to congestion.
For a member of an official committee to voice this idea is bordering on the ridiculous, and is an insight into some of the reprioritisation that needs to happen under new CEO Gillon McLachlan’s watch.
The AFL needs to focus more on building a robust competition with strong clubs, and leave the zones idea alone.
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